Jack Matthew shows of his mohawk during the Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park in Miami on Friday, March 15, 2013. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Al Diaz) MAGS OUT
MIAMI (AP) — It’s the first night of the Ultra Music Festival and Miami Fire-Rescue Lt. Robert Jorge is trying to help a man with a gash above his left eyebrow. He’s been charged with assaulting a police officer and he lies on the pavement, hands tied behind his back, rambling to no end, his eyes staring off into oblivion.
“I believe in Jesus, Jesus Christ!” he screams. “I love Christ!”
“So do I,” Jorge says. “From one Christian to another, I’m trying to help you out.”
“You’re a liar,” the man cries.
In the distance, thousands are jumping and dancing below flashing neon lights. It is 10 p.m., and for the opening night of one of the world’s largest electronic dance festivals, it’s been relatively quiet. Miami Fire-Rescue officers have responded to 35 calls, everything from drunken teens to an ankle injury.
Jorge cleans the blood off the man’s forehand and places a Band-Aid. The police suspect he’s on “molly,” a drug similar to ecstasy but often with a higher purity that’s become popular in the electronic dance scene. Officers will wait until the drug starts to wear off before putting him in a police bus and taking him to jail.
Jorge puts the headphones connecting him to dispatch back on and heads again into the crowd. Incidents like this are certainly the exception; most of the partygoers are enjoying themselves and not getting into trouble. For those that do, police and rescuers have mobile command centers set up nearby. They watch the crowd from security cameras and have officers stationed around the festival, on foot and in small flatbed trucks with stretchers on top.
“The way they do this is like a mass casualty incident,” Jorge says, explaining how they are ready to go into a crowd of thousands and find the person they need to treat. “We train for that.”
Ultra is now in its 15th year and this year is taking place over two weekends. That raised some objections from Miami city commissioners, who came close to canceling the second weekend but agreed to let it go on after coming to an agreement with festival organizers to add more security. The event attracts the world’s top DJs and producers, along with an expected 330,000 fans, mostly young people looking for a brief respite, others heavily into rave culture.
The festival is set up at Bayfront Park in the middle of downtown. Festivalgoers can go from one stage to another, the lights of the city beaming nearby. It’s visually spectacular, and the crowd is a spectacle. Girls dress in tutus, bikinis and furry knee-length leg warmers. Guys go in shorts, T-shirt optional.
Jeremy and Tent Kloter, brothers from Tampa, wore American flag shorts and nothing else. They carried small beverage dispensing backpacks, first filled with cranberry vodka, then water. Both are tanned and well-toned and girls continually stop them to pose for photographs as the brothers make their way to the main stage.
For Jeremy Kloter, 22, the draw of the festival is simple: “I can be myself more.”
The brothers disappear into the mass of partygoers.
“What’s about to happen on this stage is insanity, pure insanity!” the DJ yells.
Melisa Jonson, 25, is being pushed in a wheelchair through the crowd. She was in a car accident when she was 5 years old and left paralyzed from the waist down. She’s a culinary student in Miami and she and her friends have seen the festival from afar but never attended. They decided to go this year to see what it was all about.
A friend helps wheel Jonson through the dirt ground. Revelers walk and dance around her and she enjoys the music.
“My parents always told me whatever you want to do, just do it,” she said.
Nearby one stage is The Heineken House, a beer lounge with LED lighting, fog machines and live feeds from the show so that people don’t miss a minute, even while waiting in line for a drink.
Diego Allmaral is jumping up and down as he waits for a beer. Green colored lights cast a tint over him and his friend. He’s from Venezuela and says his family left everything behind. He comes to Ultra every year and this year, he has a lot to celebrate. He’s been accepted into Columbia University after studying at a community college.
“This is the best dance festival in the world!” he says.
Outside, a blonde woman in a black bikini and elaborate red, white and yellow Indian headdress, gives away the dozens of brightly colored, plastic bead bracelets stacked up her wrists. Her rave name is Molly Casa and she is a “PLUR mama,” PLUR standing for peace, love, unity and respect. To get one of the 500 bracelets she spent days making people have to do a special hand signal along with her that symbolizes the mantra. She believes it is an exchange of energy.
“I feel my soul’s purpose is to lead the youth in the rave scene to that spiritual fire in all of us,” the 24-year-old says.
She started going to Ultra when she was 13 with an older boyfriend, and has come every year since.
“The sound of electronic music is evolving mankind,” she says.
Fans who have seen her on the Internet come up gushing and make the hand signal with her.
Meanwhile, Jorge is on one of the small trucks responding to a call. The driver is honking the horn, the sound blurring into the music, as he tries to get people to move out of the way. They come to a young man who is sitting next to his brother. He can’t tell officers his date of birth or his age. He can barely stand.
The boy’s brother says he is 17. The officers call their mother to meet them at the hospital.
The officers don’t know if he’s been drinking or what.
“Too much of whatever,” one says.
They strap the teen to stretcher and he’s lifted onto the flatbed truck. Now they must make their way through the crowd in front of the main stage, where Afrojack has the crowd moving.
Jorge and another officer walk in front of the truck, clearing the way. The wheels of the truck crumple dozens of plastic water bottles and drink cups on the ground. Halfway through, several people come holding a young girl to the truck. She’s almost passed out.
That is how Jorge will spend the night, going from one incident to another. When it’s over, the crowds stream into the city and vendors hawk offers for after-parties and van rides to Miami Beach.
It’s one night of the festival down. Five more to go.